Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘books’

25 OCTOBER, 2012

100 Ideas That Changed Art

By:

From cave paintings to the internet, or how art and cultural ideology shape one another.

On the heels of yesterday’s 100 Ideas That Changed Photography comes 100 Ideas That Changed Art (public library) — a succinct account of the most influential developments in the history of art, from cave paintings to the internet, compiled by art historian and broadcaster Michael Bird. From conceptual innovations like negative space (#98), color codes (#33), and street art (#94) to landmarks of communication like making books (#21), propaganda (#12), and handwriting (#24) to ideological developments like “less is more” (#30), protest (#79), and the body as surface (#9), each idea is contextualized in a 500-word essay with key visual examples.

Bird writes in the introduction:

What does it mean to ‘change art’? Art, in any definition, is so much a business of transformation that change is always and everywhere part of its nature, whether you think of it in physical terms (stone into statue) or in intellectual or spiritual ones (giving form to invisible things). No sooner has an idea changed art that art reformulates that idea, allowing it to recognize itself. Around the early fifth century BC, for example, Greek sculptors changed the way they represented naked figures, probably under the influence of certain intellectual attitudes to the human body. At the same time, their nude statues endowed fifth-century Greek ideas about what it means to be human with an extraordinarily long and fertile posterity. As so often where art is concerned, the transformation works both ways, more on the analogy of a chemical reaction than the introduction of a new material in engineering or a new process in politics.

IDEA # 7: NARRATIVE

On Trajan’s Column in Rome significant moments in the story of Trajan’s Dacian campaign are grouped to align vertically, so that they make sense from several standpoints when viewed from the ground. Like a mime show, Masaccio’s The Tribute Money fresco conveys the drama of emotionally charged confrontation and resolute action even to modern viewers unfamiliar with the biblical story.

Whereas stories are diachronic — they take time in the telling and involve the unfolding of events through time — visual images work synchronically, being interpreted almost instantaneously by the viewer. Visual artists have therefore developed a wide range of strategies for the task of storytelling.

IDEA # 11: CONTRAPPOSTO

Polykleitos was credited with 'the idea that statues should stand firmly on one leg only.' Greek artists were said to derive the rules of art from his Doryphoros 'as if from a law.'

IDEA # 32: TROMPE-L'OEIL

Renaissance artists put the newly perfected technique of linear perspective to light-hearted as well as serious uses. The trompe-l’oeil ceiling opening Andrea Mantegna painted for his patron Ludovico Gonzaga is a virtuoso demonstration of perspective.

IDEA # 34: ALLEGORY

In devising his great allegory Primavera (Spring, c.1478), Sandro Botticelli followed Alberti’s advice to painters, to take their themes from literary sources. In the center Venus and Cupid represent love, while Flora scatters flowers.

IDEA # 54: THE ARTIST

A detail from Courbet’s The Studio of the Painter (1855) shows the artist painting a landscape, observed by a nude female model and, to the right, people he called 'shareholders'—friends and supporters from the art world.

IDEA # 59: CAPTURING THE INSTANT

John Constable’s studies of clouds over Hampstead Heath, London, in 1821-1822 are so accurate that they correlate with meteorological records. Art’s subject here is not the permanence of landscape but 'the ungraspable, the fleeting.'

IDEA # 65: ARTIFICIAL LIGHT

In George de la Tour’s Saint Joseph Carpenter (c.1640), the young Jesus holds a candle while his father drills a wooden beam, foreshadowing the Crucifixion. Candlelight intensifies the spiritual drama of this apparently everyday scene.

IDEA # 82: SHOCK

Defending Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863) from accusations of 'obscene intent,' the novelist Emile Zola took the scandalized public to task for being preoccupied with subject matter and ignoring the painting’s qualities as art.

100 Ideas That Changed Art comes from British publisher Laurence King, who previously brought us 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design, 100 Ideas That Changed Film, and 100 Ideas That Changed Architecture.

Images and captions courtesy of Laurence King

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

25 OCTOBER, 2012

Who Could It Be At This Hour? Lemony Snicket Asks All The Wrong Questions

By:

An irreverent story of secrets in black, gray, and blue.

As a lover of Daniel Handler and his Lemony Snicket alias for young readers, I was thrilled for the much-anticipated release of his latest: “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” (public library) tells the story of a young Snicket, who begins his apprenticeship in a secret organization and soon finds himself in trouble after asking “four wrong questions, more or less.” The black-gray-and-blue illustrations by celebrated cartoonist Gregory Gallant, better-known as Seth, are the perfect complement to Snicket’s signature style — mischievous, sophisticated without taking itself too seriously, brimming with a playful love of language.

The story pulls you in by the collar from the very first paragraph and doesn’t let go until the very last page:

There was a town, and there was a girl, and there was a theft. I was living in the town, and I was hired to investigate the theft, and I thought the girl had nothing to do with it. I was almost thirteen and I was wrong. I was wrong about all of it.

“Who Could That Be at This Hour?” is the first installment in a four-book series titled All The Wrong Questions.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

25 OCTOBER, 2012

Anaïs Nin on Parenting, Character, and Personal Responsibility

By:

“We cannot always place responsibility outside of ourselves, on parents, nations, the world, society, race, religion.”

“Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — “ wrote Joan Didion, “is the source from which self-respect springs.” For young Susan Sontag, the architecture of character was a matter of certain responsibilities. And although our early upbringing lays out a powerful template for the neural core of our emotional identity, the notion that it’s inescapable, that the constellation of qualities and behaviors we call “character” is stable and unchanging, is a myth.

In this passage from an entry penned in the winter of 1948, found in the same Diary of Anaïs Nin Vol. 5 (1947-1955) (public library) that gave us that poetic antidote to city life, Anaïs Nin reflects on the intricate interplay between the formative role of parenting and the plasticity of our personality:

We receive a fatal imprint in childhood, at the time of our greatest plasticity, of our passive impressionism, of our helplessness before suggestion. In no period has the role of the parents loomed as immense, because we have recognized the determinism, but at the same time an exaggeration in the size of the Enormous Parent does not need to be permanent and irretrievable. The time has come when, having completed the scientific study of the importance of parents, we now must re-establish our power to revoke their imprint, to reverse our patterns, to kill our fatal downward tendencies. We do not remain smaller in suture than our parents. Nature had intended them to shrink progressively in our eyes to human proportions while we reach for our own maturity. Their fallibilities, their errors, their weaknesses were intended to develop our own capacity for parenthood. We were to discover their human weakness not to overwhelm or humiliate them, but to realize the difficulty of their task and awaken our own human protectiveness toward their failures or a respect for their partial achievement. But to place all responsibilities upon them is wrong too. If they gave us handicaps, they also gave us their courage, their obstinacy, their sacrifices, their moments of strength. We cannot forever await from them the sanction to mature, to impose on them our own truths, to resist or perhaps defeat them in our necessity to gain strength.

We cannot always place responsibility outside of ourselves, on parents, nations, the world, society, race, religion. Long ago it was the gods. If we accepted a part of this responsibility we would simultaneously discover our strength. A handicap is not permanent. We are permitted all the fluctuations, metamorphoses which we all so well understand in our scientific studies of psychology.

Character has ceased to be a mystery and we can no longer refuse our responsibility with the excuse that this is an unformed, chaotic, eyeless, unpredictable force which drives, tosses, breaks us at will.

Complement with Nin’s hand-lettered wisdom on life.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.